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Sept. 13, 2016, 11:30 a.m.
Business Models
Mobile & Apps

The Incline, Billy Penn’s new sister site, launches in Pittsburgh

Like Billy Penn in Philadelphia, the Pittsburgh site will focus on attracting a younger audience through events and aggregation in addition to original reporting.

Nearly two years after launching Billy Penn in Philadelphia, Jim Brady’s Spirited Media on Tuesday debuted its second local news site, The Incline, in Pittsburgh.

Billy Penn readers will immediately recognize The Incline. The site designs are identical and Brady told me that The Incline will follow Billy Penn’s model of focusing on younger readers with events, an active institutional voice, and curation of other local news sources. (Billy Penn and Incline editors are adamant that what they do is curation, not aggregation.)


While the sites’ structures are the same, Brady said he expects The Incline to take on its own voice and editorial focus as its editors get experience and adapt to the Pittsburgh market. He expects The Incline to cover more technology than Billy Penn, for instance, because of the cluster of Silicon Valley companies working with Carnegie Mellon University, but also because Philly has cornered the tech beat in Philadelphia.

“The editors are different, the cities are different; I’m not looking to match it squarely,” Brady said. “Obviously, you dip your toe in the water as you try some different things and see what the audience reacts to.”

Billy Penn editor Chris Krewson and his staff have also been working with Incline editor Lexi Belculfine and the site’s other staff to figure out ways to develop stories and collect and present coverage from elsewhere. Brady said Krewson will remain involved with The Incline, and that the two sites might find ways to collaborate on some statewide Pennsylvania coverage. Billy Penn works with PolitiFact to factcheck Pennsylvania politicians, and The Incline will now help with that coverage as well.

The Incline is also in conversations with some other Pittsburgh outlets to collaborate on some projects.

Despite the similarities, Brady has said he has changed his approach to building the site’s business based on lessons learned from Billy Penn’s 2014 launch when the company waited about seven months to bring on its first full-time sales person. The site’s thinking was to “just build an audience,” Brady said. “We’re so new in the city that we’re not going to be able to sell anything out of the gate. Let’s just focus on building audience.”

Now he said, he’s “not sure that was the right call.”

“If we had somebody in the door right out of the gate we might have started bringing in money faster,” Brady said.

Billy Penn is on track to have its first profitable month based on “a bunch of singles, doubles, and triples as opposed to one big thing” in the first quarter of 2017, Brady said. He wouldn’t disclose specific revenue figures, but when they were first getting the site off the ground, he invested about $500,000 of his own money, which he said at the time was enough to support the site for 18 months. In March, Gannett acquired a minority stake in Spirited Media.

At this point The Incline is running network and house ads, but it’s actively looking for advertising clients while also hoping to expand its relationships with the clients who are already advertising on Billy Penn’s site.

The Incline is planning a launch party for later this fall, and Brady said he expects that event to jumpstart the site’s advertising.

“The nice thing about events is that it sometimes forces potential advertisers to decide a little bit more quickly whether or not they want to buy or not. If you have an event that’s a perfect event for them, you can’t really wait another quarter,” he said.

Before settling on creating the second site in Pittsburgh, the company had also considered expanding to either Baltimore or Chicago. Brady said he would like to eventually expand to a third site, but for now his focus is on Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

“I haven’t given any specific thought to what City Three is, or when we could do that,” he said. “I think that’s still not sorted out — I was going to use TBD, but I don’t like using that acronym from my previous life — but the desire is to certainly expand, but not to do it insanely quickly. To do it right you have to take a deep breath and think it through.”

Photo by clkohan used under a Creative Commons License.

POSTED     Sept. 13, 2016, 11:30 a.m.
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